Friday, December 31, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #32: Less Than Secret

I enjoy anthologies that are a true team effort. This is something that's one of the major first-year requirements at CCS, as students are split into teams to make an anthology in a particular style, like Golden Age adventure or romance comics or 90s style Shonen Jump manga work. Because most alternative cartoonists are solo acts, forcing this kind of collaboration can be useful and teach a lot of lessons. Less Than Secret is an anthology from several CCS grads and several other cartoonists. Beyond their contributions in terms of the stories they drew, many of the book's cartoonists had other duties related to publishing. 

CCS grads Rainer Kannenstine and Ben Wright-Heumann served as its publishers. They were there to make sure the book was on schedule, obtain funding and consider distribution. JD Laclede was the editor, working directly with talent and sequencing the stories. Erienne McCray did the design, while Kelci Crawford acted as the crowdfunding manager. Angela Boyle was an anthology consultant, which makes sense considering her years assembling the Awesome Possum anthology. That collective sense of responsibility on what was clearly a labor of love is present and strengthens the overall anthology. 

The theme here is cryptids, or animals that some people claim to exist but whose existence has never been proven. It's fitting that Steve Bissette, the master monster-maker, penned a funny intro explaining his interest in monsters from a young age. Crawford's "A Day In The Life Of Mothman" is played for laughs, as a woman is followed by the legendary creature, whose presence foretells potential disaster. However, she can sense him, and it allows her to prevent a guy from being killed by a car, avoiding a fight at a diner, and preventing her from eating a bad hot dog. Crawford's line is crisp and expressive, with a lot of grayscale shading to add weight to the page. 

McCray's comic about the "Fresno Nightcrawler" (essentially a big baseball with legs) is also played for laughs, as this cryptid is more ridiculous than scary. They added a nice touch having the Loch Ness Monsters as its roommate and Bigfoot taunt it. McCray's line is fluid and a nice match for the kind of dynamic silliness that this ridiculous creature (wearing a fedora, even!) demands. Wright-Heumann is a horror guy, and he did a sort of Western/fantasy fusion with a family of Elves fending off a group of chupacabra mysteriously attacking them. The ending is grimly clever. His scratchy line was appropriate for the subject matter, though the extensive use of grayscale was distracting at times. This was a story that cried out for color. 

I'm not crazy about comics that insert huge blocks of typewritten text, but Angela Boyle's cartooning is so sharp in her story of the odd little elwetritsch that it wasn't too distracting. Moreover, using that text as the main character's interior monologue actually made this a useful device, commenting on the comic set around it. Boyle manages to sneak an entire murder mystery into this little comic with an unassuming old woman and her strange "pet." Ian Klesch and Andrew Small's story about how a lycanthrope used a dating app to fool a woman into being his prey was funny and grisly. The figure drawing was crude at points in a way that was distracting, and some of that was due to over-drawing in an effort to bolster a shaky line. 

Rainer Kannenstine's piece about the Dover Demon went in yet another direction: how messing with weird cryptids is likely to bite you in the ass in horrible ways. It's the story of a bully who attacks the creature in the forest with a ball, then gets his head crushed in revenge. He used some digital effects in interesting ways, including a "syrup brush" for some of the background fills that added to the story's atmosphere. Jess Johnson had perhaps the silliest story in the book, as an emo kid is befriended by his sister's new boyfriend: "JD," or the infamous Jersey Devil. Johnson turned the creature into an actual hockey player and made this a romance/family story where everyone took JD's presence for granted. It's hard not to see Johnson's strong shojo manga influence, giving this a radically different look and feel from the other stories in the anthology. However, it's not a slavish adherence to the style; rather, it's a launching point into Johnson's own style. 

There's plenty of backmatter in the anthology, including full biographies and behind-the-scenes stuff that's somewhat interesting, but at 20 pages (compared to 90 pages for the rest of the book) it feels like a lot of padding. That said, the interviews asking each creator why they chose their cryptid, their creative methods, etc. was at least thoughtfully done. Overall, this is a breezy anthology that I wished had been a bit longer. 

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